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Women's Transnational Activism against Portugal's Colonial Wars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2022

Giulia Strippoli*
Affiliation:
Institute of Contemporary History, NOVA University of Lisbon Lisbon 1050-99, Portugal

Abstract

This article recovers the history of the transnational women's movement that arose during Portugal's colonial wars (1961–1974). This movement connected women in Portugal and its colonies and operated independently of the PCP, MPLA, PAIGC, and FRELIMO. Most research on women's activism in Portugal, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde, and Mozambique begins with their relationships to the male-dominated organizations that operated within national frameworks. In contrast, by examining the international connections of these women's groups, this article illuminates their political activities outside national organizations led by men. It shows that women created transnational solidarity networks struggling against the Portuguese Estado Novo and the colonial wars and, in doing so, promoted their own emancipation.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis.

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Footnotes

This work is funded by national funds through the FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under the Norma Transitória – DL 57/2016/CP1453/CT0056. I am grateful to: the researchers of the project “Women's Rights and Global Socialism” for the fruitful debate during our meetings; Allison Drew, Celia Donert, Mallarika Sinha Roy, and Simone Tulumello for their comments of the draft versions of this article; Andrea Brazzoduro and Immanuel Harisch for their insights; Regina Marques and Luzia Moniz for our conversations; archivists and archival employees, and especially Rita Carvalho and Joana Bénard da Costa from AHS; IRSH's editorial board, production team, and anonymous reviewers; Augusta Conchiglia, Maria do Carmo Piçarra and José da Costa Ramos for granting me permission to reproduce the images.

References

1. In these terms, the MDM represented itself. Pela Paz pela Democracia Mulheres do Mundo Unidas (Lisbon, November 1976).

2. The Comissão Democrática Eleitoral (CDE) was formed when the Portuguese elections of 1969 took place, in the context of the first year of government led by Marcelo Caetano, who was prime minister after Salazar's illness. The democratic front was composed of communists, socialists, liberals, and progressive Catholics. Caetano's government and its promises, ambiguities, and failures in terms of modernization and liberalization have been analysed in Rosas, Fernando and Oliveira, Pedro Aires (eds), A Transição Falhada, O Marcelismo e o Fim do Estado Novo (1968–1974) (Lisbon, 2004)Google Scholar.

3. Haan, Francisca de, “Continuing Cold War Paradigms in Western Historiography of Transnational Women's Organisations: The Case of the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF)”, Women's History Review, 19:4 (2010), pp. 547573CrossRefGoogle Scholar. De Haan has offered a critical perspective of the “Cold War paradigm” of Western historiography that has shaped the “not knowing” of left feminist activism, by formulating, among other points, the uncorrected idea that the Federation was oriented by Soviet women and dominated by communist activists.

4. For the ambiguities of the PCP's political line facing the colonies, see Judith Manya, “Le PCP et la question coloniale, 1921–1974” (Ph.D., Université Montesquieu-Bordeaux IV, November 2004); and João Madeira, História do PCP. Das origens ao 25 de abril (1921–1974) (Lisbon, 2013). Neves shifted the focus from the identification of anti-colonialism with nationalism to the role of class struggle; see José Neves, Comunismo e Nacionalismo em Portugal. Política, cultura e história no século XX (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 166–168. On relationships between the PCP and the liberation movements, see Dalila Cabrita Mateus, A luta pela independência. A formação das elites fundadoras da FRELIMO, MPLA, PAIGC (Mem Martins, 1999), pp. 80–84.

5. For a pioneering investigation composed of biographies and testimonies of imprisoned women's resistance to the Estado Novo and prison, see Rose Nery Nobre de Melo, Mulheres Portuguesas na Resistência (Lisbon, 1975).

6. From the 1980s, several studies have fleshed out the history of different configurations of women's groups. See Vanda Gorjão, Mulheres em tempos sombrios. Oposição feminina ao Estado Novo (Lisbon, 2002); Manuela Tavares, Feminismos. Percursos e desafios (1947–2007) (Alfragide, 2010); idem, Movimentos de mulheres em Portugal. Décadas de 70 e 80 (Lisbon, 2000). Other studies have focused on specific aspects of women's opposition, for instance life in the underground. See Ana Barradas, As clandestinas (Lisbon, 2004); and Vanessa de Almeida, Mulheres da clandestinidade (Lisbon, 2017). Anne Cova focused on the period of the so-called first wave of feminism and the comparison between National Councils of Women in Portugal, Italy, and France, led by upper-middle class women: Anne Cova, “The National Councils of Women in France, Italy and Portugal. Comparisons and Entanglements 1888−1939”, in Oliver Janz and Daniel Schönpflug (eds), Gender History in a Transnational Perspective: Biographies, Networks, Gender Orders (Oxford and New York, 2014), pp. 46–76. Cova's attention to the comparative approach dates from the beginning of the 2000s, as attested by several publications, in Portuguese and in English. See Anne Cova (ed.), Comparative Women's History: New Approaches (Boulder, CO, and New York, 2006). Anne Cova is the Principal Investigator of the project PTDC/HAR–HIS/29376/2017 financed by the FCT, entitled “Women and Associativism in Portugal, 1914–1974”, and she coordinates the sub-group Transnational Women's activism in the COST Action CA 18119 Who cares in Europe? programme that is financed by the European Commission. These projects are improving the transnational dimension of studies on women in Portugal and elsewhere.

7. Margarida Calafate Ribeiro and António Sousa Ribeiro (eds), “As mulheres e a guerra colonial”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 68 (2004), Special Issue. See also Sofia Branco, As mulheres e a guerra colonial. Mães, filhas, mulheres e namoradas. A retaguarda dos homens na frente de batalha (Lisbon, 2015), which includes individual stories of Portuguese women (“the rear guard of men”, according to the subtitle) in a narrative mixing women from the National Feminine Movement (Movimento Nacional Feminino; MNF) – the women's movement that supported the Estado Novo dictatorship – women who accompanied men to Africa, the Red Cross and parachutist nurses, the mothers, daughters, girlfriends left in Portugal, and a few left-wing militants. On the MNF, see also Sílvia Espírito Santo, “Adeus, até ao teu regresso”. O Movimento Nacional Feminino na Guerra Colonial (1961–1974) (Lisbon, 2003).

8. See the testimonies in Margarida Calafate Ribeiro, África no feminino. As mulheres portuguesas e a guerra colonial (Porto, 2007).

9. Stephanie Urdang, Fighting Two Colonialisms: Women in Guinea Bissau (New York, 1979); Margarida Paredes, Combater duas vezes. Mulheres na luta armada em Angola (Lisbon, 2015); Inês Galvão and Catarina Laranjeiro, “Gender Struggle in Guinea-Bissau: Women's Participation On and Off the Liberation Record”, in Nuno Domingos, Miguel Jerónimo, and Ricardo Roque (eds), Resistance and Colonialism: Insurgent People in World History (New York, 2019), pp. 85–122.

10. Daniela Melo, “Women's Movements in Portugal and Spain: Democratic Processes and Policy Outcomes”, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 38:3 (2017), pp. 251–275. The same thesis is argued in Daniela Melo, “Women's Mobilisation in the Portuguese Revolution: Context and Framing Strategies”, Social Movement Studies, 15:4 (2016), pp. 403–416.

11. Andreas Stucki, Violence and Gender in Africa's Iberian Colonies: Feminizing the Portuguese and Spanish Empire, 1950s–1970s (New York, 2018).

12. Ibid., p. 265.

13. Aliou Ly, “Revisiting the Guinea-Bissau liberation war: PAIGC, UDEMU and the Question of Women's Emancipation, 1963–74”, Portuguese Journal of Social Science, 14:3 (2015), pp. 365–366. On the same topic of romanticization of gender equality and emancipation of women, to which Ly opposes the PAIGC “masculine ideological narrative”, see Aliou Ly, “Promise and Betrayal: Women Fighters and National Liberation in Guinea Bissau”, Feminist Africa, 20 (2014), pp. 24–42.

14. Galvão and Laranjeiro, “Gender Struggle”, pp. 97 and 113.

15. The political police of the Estado Novo regime, called the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE) and, from 1968, the Direção Geral de Segurança (DGS). The PIDE/DGS archive is at the Portuguese National Arquives Torre do Tombo (ANTT). Other sources include the Social History Archives of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (AHS), the Mário Soares Foundation archive (FMS), the Historical Diplomatic Archive (AHD), the MDM archive, and the United Nations archive.

16. Like the other National Councils, the CNMP was a federation of associations of women. Despite its close relationship with Republicans and Freemasons, not all women participating in the CNMP were so aligned. See Cova, “The National Councils of Women”, p. 53. The author also underlines the difficulties of associativism in Portugal and the minimal size of the CNMP. Another previous women's organization was the Liga Republicana das Mulheres Portuguesas (1909). The closing of the CNMP by the Civil Governor of Lisbon pushed Maria Lamas to make investigations and to write the book As Mulheres do Meu Pais (Lisbon, 1950).

17. The paradox that permission was given to the AFPP has been noted and analysed, including a reference to the approval of its Statutes that insisted on the enlargement of the organization during the first year of the Spanish Civil War. See Vanda Gorjão, Mulheres em tempos sombrios. Oposição feminina ao Estado Novo (Lisbon, 2002), pp. 146–157. The author explains this permission not as a sign of a pluralism tolerated by the regime; rather, the group was tolerated because it was too small to be a threat to the dictatorship.

18. See Regina Marques, A memória, a obra e o pensamento de Maria Lamas (Lisbon, 2008), p. 47. For a biography of Maria Lamas see Maria Antónia Fiadeiro, Maria Lamas. Biografia (Lisbon, 2003).

19. Ana Barradas, Dicionário de Mulheres Rebeldes (Lisbon, 2006), p. 162.

20. AHD, CE39.P3/2034.

21. At the Moscow meeting, the Italian representatives of the Union of Italian women (Unione Donne Italiane, UDI) clashed with the Soviet leaders of the WIDF (mostly members of the Antifascist Committee of Soviet Women) on a topic that had been discussed in previous meetings. From the UDI's perspective, the first objective of the Federation should be the fight for women's rights. For Soviet women, the objective was struggling for peace and against atomic danger, arguing that in the socialist world women had already conquered rights and equality with men. The following year, the UDI abandoned its WIDF membership, but continued to be associated with the Federation. See Maria Michetti, Margherita Repetto, Luciana Viviani UDI. Laboratorio politico di donne: Idee e materiali per una storia (Soveria Mannelli, 1999), pp. 317–327.

22. Margarida Tengarrinha, “Maria Lamas, nos Congressos Mundiais de Mulheres”, in Regina Marques (ed.), A memória, a obra e o pensamento de Maria Lamas (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 81–85.

23. Its programmes were heard and transcribed by political police. Communist leader Aurélio Santos, the radio station's director, later discussed his experience: “Radio Portugal Livre. Uma voz vinda de longe”. Available at: http://www.urap.pt/index.php/histria-mainmenu-37/historia/50-rdio-portugal-livre-uma-voz-vinda-de-longe; last accessed 12 January 2021.

24. In 1987, Maria Alda Nogueira received the MDM's Distinction for her women's rights activities. Born in 1923 in Alcântara, she and Maria Lamas revitalized the CNMP in 1945. At university, Nogueira joined the PCP, and in 1949 began working for the clandestine edition of the communist journal Avante!. Arrested by the PIDE in October 1959, she was released in December 1969 and went into exile. After the Carnation Revolution, she returned to Portugal from Belgium and restarted her activities in the PCP. MDM, Maria Alda Nogueira. Uma mulher, uma vida, uma história de amor (Lisbon, November 1987).

25. AHD, UI 7840: Federação Democrática de Mulheres.

26. Marcelo Caetano replaced António De Oliveira Salazar in September 1968 and opened a short period of reforms in the sense of liberalization, a period dubbed the “Marcelist spring”, which was concluded in 1970 with the tightening of repressive measures.

27. The elections of 1969, in the context of the apparent openness and liberalization announced by Marcelo Caetano, were the occasion for political activity and the organization of democratic oppositions.

28. Pela Paz pela Democracia Mulheres do Mundo Unidas (Lisbon, November 1976).

29. Founder and first president of the WIDF.

30. Tavares, Feminismos, p. 264.

31. Ibid., p. 265.

32. “Estatutos da UDEMU”, Fundação Mário Soares/DAC. Documentos Amílcar Cabral. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_41176; last accessed 2 July 2020. On women from Cabo Verde, see Ângela Sofia Benoliel Coutinho, “Militantes invisíveis. As cabo-verdianas e o movimento independentista (1956–1974)”, Revista Estudos Feministas, 28:1 (2020), e68316.

33. Ibid. To accomplish the objective, the statutes said that a series of works were necessary: the mobilization of women, the defence of their equality with men in the family, support for pregnant women, mothers, and children, the fight for the economic independence of women, and relationships of friendship, solidarity, and fraternal collaboration with similar organizations.

34. See the history of the Conference of African women published by Awa. La revue de la femme noire, 1 (1964), pp. 12–13. Available at: www.awamagazine.org; last accessed 29 June 2021.

35. Luzia Moniz, “O Contributo decisivo de Angola para a Organização Pan-Africana de Mulheres”, Jornal de Angola (2 August 2019).

36. I Conferência das Mulheres Africanas, FMS-Documentos Amílcar Cabral. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_41175; last accessed 2 July 2020.

37. Galvão and Laranjeiro, “Gender Struggle”, p. 95.

38. Conferência das Mulheres Africanas (Dar es Salaam, 27 July a 1 August 1962). Estatuto da Conferência das Mulheres Africanas. Associação Tchiweka de Documentação. Available at: https://www.tchiweka.org/documento-textual/0037000001; last accessed 9 September 2021.

39. See the telegram sent from Berlin to Conakry to the WIDF with the name of Maria da Luz Andrade, also known as Lilica Boal, leader of UDEMU and PAIGC: Sem Título, FMS /DAC. Documentos Amílcar Cabral. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_36699; last accessed 2 July 2020. The Committee of Czechoslovakian women sent the air ticket from Prague to Moscow for the Guinean delegate. See Sem Título, FMS. Documentos Amílcar Cabral. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_37037; last accessed 2 July 2020.

40. Urdang, Fighting Two Colonialisms, p. 268.

41. Stephanie Urdang, The Revolution within the Revolution (New York, 1978), p. 16.

42. Idem., Fighting Two Colonialisms, pp. 119–123. Stephanie Urdang spent two months in Guinea-Bissau in 1974, from mid-April to mid-June (the Portuguese colonial wars ended with the collapse of the Estado Novo on 25 April 1974). She returned for another two and a half months, from June to August 1976, in a totally liberated country. Her work is based on oral interviews and photographs.

43. Awa magazine was an independent journal in French, published in Dakar, Senegal, by a network of African women between 1964 and 1973.

44. Awa. La revue de la femme noire, 4, New Series (May 1973), p. 4. Available at: www.awamagazine.org; last accessed on 29 June 2021.

45. Ly, “Promise and Betrayal”, p. 38.

46. Algiers, 4–6 March 1974. See the numerous newspaper articles dedicated to the event. AHD, UI 7769, I Seminário internacional das mulheres árabes e africanas (recortes jornais).

47. Also consider the presence of Francisca Pereira, UDEMU's leader, at a conference with Angela Davis in 1970, attested by a photograph: “Francisca Pereira durante uma conferência com Angela Davis”, FMS/ DAC. Documentos Amílcar Cabral. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_43603; last accessed 1 September 2021.

48. See À Irmã Angolana, b/d. AHD, UI 7453.

49. “Speech of OMA at the meeting celebrated in Dar es Salaam to commemorate the 2nd. March-ANGOLAN WOMEN'S DAY 1 in 1972”, MPLA News (1972), PT-AHS-ICS-JL-MNA-61.

50. OMA, Quarterly Issue, 1 (1972), ANTT, PIDE/DGS AC SC SR 1446/62 UI 3195.

51. O papel da mulher da Revolução angolana, n/d. AHD, UI 7512: Organização da Mulher em Angola.

52. ANTT, PIDE/DGS SC SR 51/54 Pt 3, Fl. 38.

53. OMA Quarterly Issue, 1 (1973). Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, PT-AHS-ICS-JL-MNA-59.

54. Ibid.

55. See Departamento de Informação de Propaganda do MPLA, 2 de março. Dia da Mulher de Angola, Lusaka (March 1971), PT_AHS_ICS_AHS_MNA_7.

56. See for instance the article dedicated to the Angolan women fighters in Zambia: “Angola's Women Now Start Active Combat”, Times of Zambia (16 March 1970).

57. Monumento às heroínas angolanas, Largo das Heroínas, Luanda, Angola.

58. Paredes, Combater duas vezes, pp. 263–291.

59. See for instance the images included in the section concerning the Women's Detachment in the polycopied proceeding The Mozambican woman in the Revolution, PT-AHS-ICS-AHS-MNA-58.

60. See the self-portrait made by the MDM on the occasion of the WIDF meeting in Lisbon in 1976 and the brochure Pela Paz pela Democracia. Mulheres do Mundo Unidas (Lisbon, November 1976).

61. Sofia Ferreira was a member of the PCP. She was arrested for the first time in 1949 and again ten years later, spending thirteen years in prison. The PIDE accurately reported the Portuguese presence in Finland and then in Berlin at the Peace Congress, and also in 1969. ANTT, Pide/Dgs SC sR 1699/51 NT 2696.

62. Congrès mondial des femmes. La femme portugaise sous le régime fasciste, Helsinki, 1417 juin 1969 (Argel, 1969).

63. Ibid., p. 15.

64. “Resolução sobre deserções”, Avante! (September 1967), p. 4.

65. See the brochure X° Anniversaire de la Fédération Démocratique des femmes, and the images on its opening pages, including a reproduction of “The mother”, part of the cenotaph dedicated to Soviet Heroes in Berlin, p. 4. See p. 37 for images of women demonstrating in England against the Korean War with the banner “We mothers want our sons at home” and women demonstrating in France against the Vietnam War.

66. Cadernos 25 de Junho. Sobre o papel da mulher Moçambicana da Revolução (polycopied brochure, n.d., personal archive).

67. On DF and its objectives, see the history provided during FRELIMO's Congress, The Mozambican Woman in the Revolution.

68. Ibid.

69. Josina Abiatar Muthemba Machel was born in 1945 in the province of Inhambane. She participated in the FRELIMO since its foundation. In 1964, during a clandestine mission abroad, she was arrested in Rhodesia with other comrades and imprisoned by PIDE. The group was released the same year. She joined the DF in 1967 and the following year she was delegate of the FRELIMO in the Front's Second Congress. Josina married Samora Machel in 1969, who in 1970 was elected President of the FRELIMO. She carried out many missions in different provinces of Mozambique and abroad. In September 1970, during the Second Conference of the Department of Education and Culture, she denounced the oppressive impact that traditional practices had on women. She also spoke about the emancipation of women in the Second Conference of the Defence Department, held in February 1971. She died in April 1971. For the commemorative brochure made by FRELIMO see: “FRELIMO – 7th April 1972 – 1st Anniversary of the Death of Comrade Josina Machel, Mozambican Woman Fighter”, FMS/Arquivo Mário Pinto de Andrade. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/11002/fms_dc_84121; last accessed on 30 August 2021.

70. Josina Machel, “The Role of the Women in the Revolution”, Mozambique Revolution, 41 (1969), apud The Mozambican Woman in the Revolution. The same text is published in other brochures and pamphlets; see Women's Section. The Mozambique Liberation Front, PT-AHS-ICS-JL-MNA-54.

71. Machel, “The Role of the Women in the Revolution”.

72. Kathleen Sheldon, Pounders of Grain: A History of Women, Work, and Politics in Mozambique (Portsmouth, 2002), p. 123. Sheldon also focused on women's role and perceptions of independence and of the construction of socialism in Mozambique. On Mozambican women between April 1974 and June 1975 (the independence of the country), see also the first-person narrative: Michèle Manceaux, As mulheres de Moçambique (Vila da Feira, 1976).

73. Machel, “The Role of the Women in the Revolution”.

74. Ibid.

75. See, for instance, the publication made by the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Portugal's African Colonies. Available at: http://www.mozambiquehistory.net/people/josina/anniversary_pamphlet.pdf; last accessed 8 December 2021.

76. Cadernos 25 de Junho.

77. In the postcolonial context, scholars have underlined the diversity of the society's organization in Mozambique and have criticized the colonial conception of the existence of homogeneous ideas on women. See, for instance, the explanation of a social and institutional role of matriarchy in the north of Mozambique: Arnfred, S., Conceptions of Gender in Colonial and Postcolonial Discourses: The Case of Mozambique, Gender Activism and Studies in Africa: Codesria Gender Series (Dakar, 2004), p. 109Google Scholar: “it is pathetic to see how the writers of colonial reports struggle to make the position of women in the matrilinear North fit the pre-conceived image of oppressed subordinated African women in need of liberation”.

78. See, for instance, the article, in Spanish, published by the review Tricontinental, “Secretariado Executivo da Organização de Solidariedade dos Povos de África, Ásia e América Latina” (6 July 1974). AHD, Folder Conferência das mulheres moçambicanas, UI 7770.

79. AHD, Folder I Seminário Internacional das Mulheres Árabes e Áfricanas, UI 7769.

80. Stucki, Violence and Gender, p. 282.

81. On 30 July 1973, MDM addressed a letter to Mme Madeleine Resha, from the Secretary of Conference of African Women based in Algiers: “To Madame Resha, from the Secretariat de la Conférence des femmes africaines” (Rome, 30 July 1973), Archive MDM.

82. UN Archive. A/AC.109/PET 1249.

83. O que é o Movimento Democrático de Mulheres (14 June 1974).

84. Saudação às mulheres portuguesas (May 1974), in MDM, Solidariedade da mulher portuguesa à mulher moçambicana (April 1976). Archive MDM.

85. The interview with Maria Luisa Costa Dias on her arrival from Warsaw is part of the RTP archive. The MDM has included part of it in a video dedicated to the WIDF. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CK7IIilXFk; last accessed 29 June 2021.

86. See, for instance, the discussion of the concept of global sisterhood proposed by Mohanty, Robin Morgan in C., “Feminist Encounters: Locating the Politics of Experience”, in Nicholson, L. and Seidman, S. (eds), Social Postmodernism: Beyond Identity Politics, Cambridge Cultural Social Studies (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 6886CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87. Even before the MDM's formation, Portuguese women organized and denounced their condition. See, for instance, the pamphlet distributed for the celebration of 8 March 1962, when women from Oporto distributed a text appealing to workers, intellectuals, and housewives, claiming that life for women had become even more difficult. ANTT, PIDE/Dgs SC SR 51/54 Pt 3.

88. Secretariado Executivo da Organização de Solidariedade dos Povos de África, Ásia e América Latina” (6 July 1974). AHD, Conferência das mulheres moçambicanas, UI 7770.

89. À Irmã Angolana, b/d. AHD, UI 7453.

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